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Wednesday, February 8, 2017
A General Theory of Leftist Politics
What are we to think of what Sarah Hoyt has called the Antifada, the lefty riots against free speech at "The Home of Free Speech" at the University of California at Berkeley? And why does the anti-Trump movement have the conceit to style itself as the Resistance?
The whole thing came into focus for me when reading The Great Transformationby Karl Polanyi. It's a center-left history of the industrial revolution, and my copy has a foreword by lefty economist Joseph Stiglitz. Polanyi's narrative strongly features the revolutionary activities of the workers in the mid-19th century, especially the great Chartist movement in Britain. The ruling class put down the Chartists using the army, but then extended the franchise to the workers, starting in the 1860s. The result was that the workers stopped their violent protests. They found that their concerns were being addressed in the councils of power, and so did not need to take their grievances to the streets.
Oh really! So the sacred right of peaceful protest and resistance is rather beside the point when you have the vote.
That is the whole point of democracy and representative government. When you have elections and legislatures and budgets and programs you bring into the corridors of power the conflicts that, throughout history, have been decided on the street and the battlefield.
The modern left was born in the moment just before the workers got invited into the political system. Rich kids Marx and Engels proposed a revolution, on the reasonable assumption that only naked force would release workers from their enslavement to the factory system. Obviously, the capitalists would not give up their ill-gotten gains without an existential fight to the death.
The rich kids guessed wrong. Even as the Marxian magnum opus was being published, the workers were getting the vote and getting their grievances put on the agenda of the ruling class. By 1920, the notion of the working class and revolution was so discredited that a new generation of rich kids, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, had to reinvent revolutionary politics by dumping the workers and making it all about the women and minorities that had been oppressed and marginalized since the dawn of time.
The rich kids were wrong about that too, as women and minorities were quickly buried under a mountain of beneficial legislation by the racist, sexist, homophobic patriarchy.
Today, of course, the lefty rich kids are proposing a revolution in favor of migrants, refugees, and Muslims. It's a cunning plan, because migrants and refugees are not enfranchised, and Muslims seem to be setting themselves up as eternal enemies of the Judeo-Christian West. So there is a good chance that the left can fight for their new clients forever.
Today's rich kids of the left to be no different than the turbulent barons of Shakespeare's Wars of the Roses plays. They are as vain and proud as Harry Hotspur, and believe in domination and hegemony -- for them and by them. Leftism eternally seeks for an oppressed group that can only get justice if the lefty rich kids take up arms against a sea of troubles on its behalf. Every time their revolutionary fantasy gets dissolved by a responsive regime that begins to redress the grievances of the oppressed group du jour, the left rich kids seek out another candidate for its program of universal revolution.
Of course they do, because the only warrant for left-wing revolutionary politics is a ruling class that refuses to listen to the grievances of the people. If the left were ever to admit that, most of the time, most everywhere in the modern world, most everyone gets their grievances heard and often redressed, then its warrant for protest, for marches, for demonstrations, for resistance, would evaporate.
There is a good argument that the left's fight for labor was a noble cause. Back then nobody could have imagined that the industrial revolution would build into a two-century Great Enrichment, or that the ruling class would be open to enfranchising the workers.
There is a good argument that the left's fight for women and blacks was a noble cause. The idea of women in the public square and full rights for the minority "other" was radical.
But gay rights and trans rights is getting to the fringe: it is rich kids advocating for other rich kids. And advocating for the abolition of borders and the normalization of Islam is fraught with peril for the ordinary people of America.
But there is always the fight against fascism. It is really the only thing left when the wicked enemies of the arc of history turn out to be benevolent squishes. It turns out that lefties don't have imaginary friends; they have imaginary enemies.
You tell me which fantasy is more harmful to mental health.